In Genesis 4, did Cain and Abel have previous knowledge from God about the required sacrifice?

Genesis 4:3–5

3 And in the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the LORD. 4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: 5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. NKJV, ©1982


The first sacrifice in the Bible is recorded in Genesis 3:21

Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.

(The New King James Version. (1982). (Ge 3:21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.)

Adam and Eve's nakedness represented their sin and shame before God. Just as people try to clean themselves from sin through their own methods -- discipline, silence, etc. -- Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves with fig leaves (Genesis 3:7). However, those coverings did not suffice. God created them coverings of animal skin implying that an animal died for them. Thus, God sacrificed an animal to cover Adam and Eve representing the spiritual covering of their sin that the animals death provided.

By the time of Genesis 4, they must have known a little more about sacrifices or else they wouldn't have known to offer one. Verses 6-7 implies that either Cain already knew to offer a living sacrifice or at least that God gave Cain a chance to repent:

6 So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.

(The New King James Version. (1982). (Ge 4:6–7). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.)

God advised Cain not to let sin rule over him but to rather rule over the sin. Cain sinned in offering a non-living sacrifice, but God told Cain to rule over the sin giving him a chance to repent and offer a good sacrifice.

So did Cain and Abel know about sacrifices? Yes. God had sacrifices an animal for their parents. Furthermore, God said that it was sin that drove Cain to sacrifice fruit and not ignorance. Finally, even if Cain didn't know that it was wrong to offer vegetation, he had the chance to repent after God told him of his sin.

  • Quite a bit of this answer is based on conjecture, though widespread conjecture. Nowhere does the text address the contrast between "living" and "non-living" sacrifices, though we read backwards into the text an exegetical "all-knowing." Closer look, just taking the text at hand, implies that the issue was not with the offering but the offeror (Cain) and, when looking closer, the implication underlines an issue between Cain and Able (cf. Matt. 5:24). Dec 26 '18 at 13:18
  • @SearchofKings Heb 11:4 and 1 John 3:12 indicate that Cain's sacrifice was the problem. Sin requires death. Even though animal sacrifices can't take away sin (Heb 10:11), the symbolize the judicial requirement that Jesus' death satisfied. We don't know if the pre-Mosaic law sacrifices needed to be living, but every example except Cain's show them being living (and also clean animals since Noah's ark contained more pairs of clean animals than unclean). That's an interested cross-reference, but other parts of the Bible indicate that Cain's sacrifice was the issue, not his relationship with Abel. Dec 26 '18 at 17:06
  • Enjoyed the response, as I feel these stretch us toward a knowing that only such conversations allow! I believe scripture lends towards three "possibles" when it comes to why God rejected the sacrifice: (1): type of offering, (2) quality of offering, or (3) the heart of the offeror. Indeed, the precedent and foreshadowing of blood was cast in Gen. 3, thus lending to the "type." However, I feel this still is an extrapolation. The second, again, has future-implied precedence that could lend toward instructions given to quality (but still extrapolation). Dec 27 '18 at 14:50
  • Hebrews 11:4 and I John 3:11-12, on the other hand, lend more evidence to indicate the third possibility. Exegetically, it would imply that evil works preceded Cain's offering. When couching this "love for brother" alongside "murder" and "evil works" and the "leave thy gift at the altar (Matt. 5:24), there seems to be less extrapolation. Now, perhaps "type and quality" were a part of Cain's issue prior to the bringing of the offering, especially since he was not a shepherd and would have had to secure an offering from his brother. Again though, we enter the realm of conjecture! I enjoy this! Dec 27 '18 at 14:54

There was no 'required sacrifice' - it was an offering.

We shouldn't assume that any offering brought to the Lord by either Cain or Abel was requested in the first place, let alone required. An offering, by definition, is offered - it has not been asked for nor demanded. It is a gift, and as such neither Cain nor Abel should be expecting anything from God in return for it.

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